Category Archives: Human systems

Unity, Discord, and the Reality of Human Nature

If it is in fact true that organizational performance rises with growing levels of agreement, collaboration, reciprocity and shared vision, why do leaders accept significant (and largely avoidable) costs of disunity? 

Much has to do with widespread below-the-line beliefs that disunity is just the way things are.

“It’s human nature,” clients have again and again suggested in our consulting work, unwittingly giving voice to bedrock assumptions about the human condition. “People fight. They gossip. They clash. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

Unity, in this view, goes against fundamental realities of psychological makeup.

But is this true? Is disunity an inescapable feature of human nature?

It’s certainly true that disunity is not lacking in the workplace. It can be seen everywhere. Most of us have lived a lifetime in its churning waters.

Yet highly unified organizations do exist in the world, organizations in which collaboration, mutual assistance, and commonality of vision are the norm, not the exception.

And the fact that their facilities can be visited, their processes studied and documented, suggests that disunity is not an immutable law of nature, like gravity. Rather, it a choice organizations make – even if only implicitly and unconsciously – and is therefore one they can choose to not make.

Imagine an organization in which departments go out of their way to help one another. An organization in which all individuals make a point of placing the welfare of the whole organization above their personal concerns. An organization in which the success of any one person, office, or division is celebrated as the success of all.

Such organizations can be found. They may be  rare. They may be challenging to create. But the fact that they exist at all – and that their culture stems from connscious, concerted, and sustained effort, as opposed to the happy accident of circumstance – stands as testament to the fact that disunity and discord are not inescapable facts of life.

The unity organizations can establish if they make it a priority is far more than what many leaders believe is possible. A key question facing all leaders, then, is the degree to which they are prepared to make organizational unity an explicit and operational priority.

The Nuts and Bolts of Collective Reflection

Reflective leaders are distinguished by patterns of regular self-assessment and analysis. Reflective organizations employ similar mechanisms of collective reflection and shared stock-taking. But how are such structures established in the workplace? At the heart of any robust system of organization-wide assessment is the collection of data related to workplace culture and perceptions. Drawing from both… Continue Reading

The Buck Stops Where?

The data were clear. Three supervisors were doing a great job. Three others were struggling or failing outright. The CEO instinctively approached the survey results as a tool to pinpoint deficient managers. But our experience suggested that the problem lay less in any one individual’s failures than in the overall variation of leadership within the… Continue Reading

The Role of Leaders of Leaders

We once worked with a manufacturing company that was trying to move from a top-down leadership approach to a more participation-focused system. Brian, a manager of one of the larger plants, readily accepted the challenge building a new concept of leadership and was doing an excellent job of making unfamiliar and sometimes difficult choices. One… Continue Reading

Reducing Disunity or Building Unity?

To the extent that leaders consider workplace unity at all, they tend to think in terms of fixing what’s broken. Discord is overlooked in countless forms and action is taken only when conditions get truly out of hand, when people are shouting in hallways or departments are refusing to work with one another. But just… Continue Reading

Unity, Contest, and Competition

Why do leaders accept the largely avoidable costs of disagreement, turf issues, silos, politics, competition, cliques, hostility, and other forms of organizational disunity?  Below-the-line beliefs about human nature play a role. But equally influential are related beliefs about the role of contest and competition in society. Competition is almost universally seen (in Western societies, at… Continue Reading

Organizational Unity: Success (or Failure) at the Widest Level

Organizations succeed or fail as whole systems. They can no more thrive on the strength of most-favored aspects than a car can use a functioning drive shaft and carburetor to make up for a dead alternator and flat tires. Systems whose elements are mismatched, sub-optimized, disconnected, or otherwise disunited will, therefore, inevitably fail to reach… Continue Reading

Forging a Reflective Organization

Leadership development is, at one level, an individual pursuit, focusing on leaders’ own strengths and challenges, successes and failures. The discipline of reflective leadership itself is grounded in individual attitudes and beliefs, and the personal choices they give rise to.    At another level, however, leadership development is concerned with collective patterns of association and… Continue Reading

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